Op-Ed

JFK at 100: Kennedy’s signature on Miami portrait is the real deal

Autograph authenticator verifies JFK's signature on rare Miami photo

John Reznikoff, an autograph authenticator and a dealer in presidential memorabilia, verifies that a signature on Miami News photographer Charles L. Trainor’s photograph of President John F. Kennedy is the real deal.
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John Reznikoff, an autograph authenticator and a dealer in presidential memorabilia, verifies that a signature on Miami News photographer Charles L. Trainor’s photograph of President John F. Kennedy is the real deal.

John Reznikoff, founder of University Archives in Westport, Connecticut, is an autograph authenticator and a dealer in presidential memorabilia. He was asked to authenticate the signature on Miami News photographer Charles Trainor’s photograph of President John F. Kennedy, which is featured in a story on 1A.

The photo was purportedly signed by the president with the following inscription to the photographer, “To Charles Trainor with warm regards — John Kennedy.”

But Trainor’s portrait may be one of the more revealing Kennedy items that I have ever seen. One cannot peer upon the image without remarking how different it is from the Kennedy we are used to seeing.

His face looks puffy and tired, hardly the handsome man who uttered, “Ask what you can do for your country.” His eyes are droopy, solemn and childishly inquisitive, not quite what you expect from the man who stared down the Russians during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Photos of John F. Kennedy that Charles Trainor Sr. took for the Miami News, that have never been published.

When authenticating an item of such high value, I use an abundance of caution before making a determination. Autographs are particularly prone to forgery because there is a high risk reward ratio.

A skilled forger can bang out thousands of dollars worth of perceived value in a matter of minutes. But it is not often that they can continue undetected. Because presidents are so coveted as a collecting field, volumes have been written to assist those trying to make an evaluation.

President Kennedy employed many secretaries who signed his photographs of his image. There also was the use of an autopen machine, making the study of his signature a mine field.

The bible in this study was authored by my mentor Charles Hamilton in 1965, “The Robot That Helped to Make a President: A Reconnaissance into the Mysteries of John F. Kennedy’s.” This book illustrates Kennedy’s every known machine signature. It was easy to rule out this machine in the case of Trainor’s photograph because an exact match with known patterns cannot be made.

Kennedy also had secretaries who could skillfully imitate his hand writing. Some examples could easily fool many professionals. I was able to rule out the secretaries on a number of points: Most of them used the phrase “Best wishes” as opposed to “Warmest regards.” They also tended to write more legibly than the president would.

It became clear that the only thing I needed to really worry about was whether this item was a forgery created to fool the unsuspecting collector for profit. The provenance, coming directly from the photographer’s son, Charles Trainor Jr., helped calm most of my fears. Spending many years assisting law enforcement, including the FBI, has made me suspicious even in what seems like the most trusting of situations.

I studied the signature and determined the correct flow, pressure, letter formations, line acclimation, and spacing to render an opinion of “genuine.” This is the same type of evaluation I would use when I am testifying in federal court as a questioned document examiner. In this role, the examiner always refers to “known” and “questioned” examples. Here, we compared our questioned signature to many that are known.

Perhaps most remarkable to me as a dealer in all things about the presidents is the image itself. I have bought and sold many interesting Kennedy items, including his briefcase — which was used by John Kennedy Jr. while attending Brown University — his personal rosary beads, the car he rode in the day before his assassination, and a speech he wrote for a commencement at Harvard University.

All told, the information I receive from the image is of a more vulnerable and human man. This is what sets this photograph apart from most others, making it as desirable an image as one could ever hope for.

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